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U.N.’s Fight Against Illegal Fishing

UNITED NATIONS, Apr 10 2014 (IPS) - The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has estimated that illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing costs about 20 billion dollars annually.

During two days of discussions here, which concluded Tuesday, the primary focus was on the need to implement the FAO Code of conduct for responsible fisheries and the role of regional fisheries management organisations.

“A new development on fishing management is ongoing, but it is still a slow process,” Árni M. Mathiesen, FAO Assistant Director-General, Fisheries and Aquaculture Department, told IPS.

The FAO code, which was adopted in 1995, stresses that countries and all those involved in fisheries and aquaculture should work together to conserve and manage fish resources and their habitats.

The real purpose is to help countries to develop their fisheries and aquaculture. But it requires finance, skills and experience that are not always available in developing countries.

“The present structures of international legislation were built over decades,” Mathiesen said. “We have to recognize that the current system is criticized. It is justifiable because the performance of the organizations is variable,” Mathiesen told IPS.

Indeed, the role of the FAO is to assist countries to develop their ability to manage fisheries and aquaculture. “All the instruments are negotiated but are not yet operational. If we had them operational, we would be working in a very different environment,” Mathiesen said.

One of these instruments, the Port State Measures Agreement (PSMA), aims at harmonizing how ports evaluate and inspect foreign-flagged fishing vessels. If implemented, the procedures would help officials’ spot and turn away illegally caught fish. Only 11 countries, including the United States, have ratified the treaty that will take effect once 25 parties have ratified it.

“There is definitely no opposition to the PSMA. The treaty and the effects that such an agreement would have are needed,” Mathiesen said.

The European Union recently banned fish imports from Belize, Cambodia and Guinea in fight against illegal fishing. Currently 15 percent of the worldwide fishing is illegal, representing an amount of 10 billion euros.

According to the latest FAO State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture report, fisheries and aquaculture accounted for about 148 million tons of fish in 2010.

Of the 126 million tons available for human consumption in 2009, fish was lowest in Africa (9.1 million tons), while Asia accounted for two-thirds of total consumption. “Agriculture is taking off. Regarding the effects on consumers in Asia, we will continue to see increasing fish consumption,” said Mathiesen.

In Asia, the consumption of fish per capita is around 40 kilograms (kg) per year, while the recommended minimum consumption – mostly based on Omega-3 minimum requirements – is around 15 kg.

A portion of 150 grams of fish is needed to provide about 50–60 percent of the daily protein requirements for an adult. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the average per capita fish supply should decline from 10 kilograms to five kilograms per year by 2050, according to current estimates.

“If this scenario becomes reality, that would be absolutely unacceptable,” stressed Mathiesen. “In the FAO ‘World Agriculture Towards 2030’ report, the prediction is that we would need around 50 million tons in increase production,” he added.

Based on the relationship between gross domestic product (GDP) and fish consumption, there is a need to increase production by 100 million tons.

“If we succeed in increasing the production, the consumption in Africa would go up to between 11 and 12 kg,” Mathiesen said. “It is not only a question of distribution. We really need to increase the production of fish,” he added.

However, because of the disparity in GDP growth, some regions could not compete for the fish with regions that are growing faster. Eliminating illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing would probably not lead to any jump in fish consumption, but it would help to increase the production by 10 to 20 million tons.

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